It's official, the 2010 NBA Finals have become the whistle-stop tour, and we have Phil Jackson's public posturing to thank for it.
I don't think officiating is why the Celtics lost Game 3 last night to go down two games to one to the Lakers. That had a lot more to do with another slow start for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen's 0-fer, and Derek Fisher's fourth-quarter heroics.
Yet, it would be gross negligence at this point to fail to mention the impact officiating is having on the series. Jackson is a master motivator of players and master manipulator of officials.
He is like Obi-Wan Kenobi when it comes to planting a thought in the collective conscious of the whistle-blowers. He did it before the Lakers played Oklahoma City, talking about the favorable treatment Kevin Durant got. Before the Western Conference finals he intimated that Steve Nash gets away with palming the basketball. The idea he pushed before the series was that the Celtics were a knock-down, drag-out, WWE outfit. He called them a "smackdown" team.
It is merely a coincidence then that a member of the Big Three has been saddled with foul difficulty in each of the first three contests? In Game 1 it was Ray Allen, who was taken out of his rhythm with five fouls. In Game 2, it was Kevin Garnett with five personals. Last night, Pierce had the honors, as he accumulated five fouls.
Pierce started off 0-5 from the field for the second straight game, and is clearly off his game. He was also out of the game for long stretches.
"You know. Paul never got a rhythm," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Every time he came on the floor, another whistle blows and he had to sit down. He was completely taken out of the game by the foul calls. I'll give [Ron] Artest credit when he deserves it, but today it was more that Paul Pierce had to sit on the bench. He'd play five minutes, have to go back down four minutes have to sit. I mean he wasn't allowed to play. They didn't allow him to play tonight."
Rivers went on to say that the Lakers getting foul calls on Pierce "was their best play."
Now, in fairness it should be pointed out that Lakers players have encountered some foul trouble too. The referees deigned to call five fouls on Kobe Bryant in Game 2, which is virtually hoops heresy. Of course there was a better chance of Kobe garnering an Emmy for his appearance on "Modern Family" than of being fouled out in a Finals game.
Perhaps, the most egregious call or non-call of the series was Ray Allen colliding with Kobe chest-to-chest on a fast-break lay-up late in Game 2. The officials swallowed their whistles so hard as Allen thudded to the floor that the Heimlich Maneuver couldn't have dislodged them.
The Lakers shot 41 free throws in Game 2 to Boston's 26, one free throw more than Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had combined.
After that game, Philosopher Phil critiqued and tweaked the officials. "I wasn't happy with those calls," said Jackson.
Of course he wasn't. When is he ever? Phil was working it once again, and it worked.
There is really nothing Rivers can do about it, except try to cry foul over Jackson's politicking.
"I'm just miffed and amazed how the other team complained about the fouls since we've been the team that's been in foul trouble for two games," Rivers said prior to Game 3. "Maybe they do different math there or something. I don't get that one."
Let's do some math of our own.
The Celtics were the home team last night, which is usually an NBA euphemism for the team that will get the calls, and while each team went to the free throw line 24 times, the Celtics were called for seven more fouls than their West Coast counterparts (27-20) by Messrs. Danny Crawford, Bennett Salvatore and Bill Kennedy.
Through the first three games of the series, the Lakers have taken 10 more free throws than the Celtics (96 to 86) and been whistled for nine fewer personal fouls (75 to Boston's 84).
The Celtics averaged 22.1 fouls per game during the regular season. Coming into this series, the Celtics were averaging 24.5 fouls per game in the playoffs. They've been called for 28 per game in the first three games of this series. The Lakers were averaging 23.6 fouls per game prior to the Finals. They've been called for 25 fouls per game in this series.
So, the Celtics foul average has increased by 3.5 fouls and the Lakers by about 1.5. That's what we call a discretion discrepancy.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers don't see it that way.
"I don't know, man, the referees they're calling it tight on both parts. They're reffing it fair I think," said Artest, the only player to foul out so far in the series.
"I thought they called it fair. Even in Game 2, I thought they kind of called it fair. [It's] not just because we won, even when we lost I thought they called it fair. Sometimes you can be frustrated with the referees, but it's a hard game to call. Both teams are complaining all the time, so something's got to be either right or wrong, but I know both teams are complaining the whole time."
Some are going to want to bring up the three replays last night. I went back and watched each of the out of bounds replays -- all of which came in the final 1:29 -- and to the crew's credit they got them all correct. On the last one, following a missed Pierce free throw, Rajon Rondo actually fouled Lamar Odom, forcing the ball out of bounds.
For once, there was no call and the Celtics got the ball. Should have been Odom at the free throw line.
The Celtics can't blame the officials for being down 2-1 in this series. They have to play better, but something definitely smells a little foul about Jackson's public pleas to the referees and their results.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.